By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON, Dec 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two members of a London criminal gang who used a young woman to carry and sell drugs have been convicted for human trafficking in a landmark case in Britain, police said on Wednesday.
The two men, Mahad Yusuf, 20, and Fesal Mahamud, 19, pleaded guilty on Tuesday at Swansea Crown Court in Wales to trafficking a young person for the purposes of exploitation under Britain's Modern Slavery Act, and to conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
The gang lured the victim into a car in London after making contact on social media and drove her to South Wales, where Yusuf held the 19-year-old in a property for five days and forced her to store drugs against her will, investigators said.
Yusuf told the woman she "belonged to him", although Mahamud directed his actions, according to London's Metropolitan Police.
It is the first time that Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act has been used to convict drug dealers, and police and prosecutors hope its hefty sentences will help to tackle the use of children as drug runners.
"Drug supply is not new, however the exploitation of vulnerable young people by criminal networks, to move and supply drugs across the country, takes this offending to a new level," said Tim Champion, a detective superintendent.
"The use of the Modern Slavery Act is a proportionate and necessary response," he said in a statement.
The 2015 law introduced life sentences for traffickers, better protection for people at risk of being enslaved, and forced companies to check their supply chains for forced labour.
Senior police officials and Britain's anti-slavery tsar Kevin Hyland last week told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that using the law to prosecute those who exploit, traffic and enslave people would send a strong message to other criminals.
Thousands of children - some as young as 12 - are estimated to be used by gangs to carry drugs between cities and rural areas in Britain, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Police have seen a rise in the abuse of and violence towards children, and have identified more than 700 criminal operations in the so-called 'county lines' drug trade, the NCA said.
At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the true figure could be in the tens of thousands with slavery operations on the rise.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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